[cifnmedia] Holding back the flames (Altamont Fire update)

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 1 Aug 2004 20:50:52 -0700 (PDT)

Local News 

Holding back the flames

By BILL GRIMES, Daily News
ALTAMONT - It didn't take firefighters long to answer a fire call at Rouleau 
Industries in Altamont Friday morning.

But Altamont Fire Chief Mike Bowman said it was quickly apparent that 
firefighters would not be able to save the factory, which manufactured bleacher 

"After we did our initial assessment, we knew it (the fire) had already 
breached the roof," Bowman said. "So we pretty much went into a defensive mode 
because we wanted to protect the Polypack building to the east."

The strategy worked. While the Rouleau plant was destroyed, up to 80 
firefighters at the scene Friday morning were able to keep the fire away from 
an adjacent warehouse. In addition, the fire was kept far away from a 
residential subdivision immediately north of the Rouleau plant.

Bowman said late Friday afternoon the cause of the fire was undetermined.

Firefighters received the initial call at 5:28 a.m., about a half-hour before 
the day shift at Rouleau would begin their day. Even though the first 
responders arrived on the scene less than five minutes later, Bowman said there 
was already heavy smoke and flames at the scene.

"It had already turned the corner down there," the chief said, adding the fire 
spread quickly because of the wood frame structure of the plant, as well as all 
the wood stored inside.

Flames were still apparent at several parts of the ruined plant by mid-Friday 
afternoon, even though firefighters had cleared the scene by 1 p.m. The heat 
was apparently so intense, even in the afternoon, that observers could still 
hear periodic popping sounds made by super-heated materials inside the plant 

Rouleau Industries, formerly known as Roger's Custom Cabinets, was housed in a 
U-shaped building with production lines on the west and east sides connected by 
a warehouse. The business had been founded by the late Roger Rouleau more than 
25 years ago, but had recently been bought from the elder Rouleau's estate by 
his son Mick.

The plant's 25 employees manufactured wood components for bleachers that were 
then sold to bleacher factories near and far. In fact, the plant had just 
opened a new production line for laminated plywood walkboards. The existing 
production line had manufactured risers and seats.

Gary Aldrich, the plant's business manager, said it was too early to tell 
whether the plant would be rebuilt. Owner Mick Rouleau was unavailable for 
comment Friday afternoon.

Aldrich said the plant manager followed fire trucks into the plant on his way 
into work Friday morning.

"Somebody had already reported the fire," he said. A group of employees, some 
in tears, gathered on a lawn immediately north of the plant Friday morning to 
watch their place of employment destroyed.

Bowman said it was too early to determine a cause of the fire. An investigator 
from the Illinois State Fire Marshal's office was at the scene for much of 
Friday afternoon, spending hours inside the plant's remains and consulting with 
plant employees among lingering flames and acrid smoke.

Bowman praised firefighters from several other departments who provided mutual 
aid at the scene, including personnel from St. Elmo, Brownstown, Shumway, 
Beecher City (Tri-County), Farina and Vandalia.

"We got great cooperation from all the departments," the chief said.

One firefighter was injured Friday morning when he twisted an ankle at the 
scene. Altamont firefighter Andy Voelker was taken to St. Anthony's Memorial 
Hospital in Effingham, where he was treated and released as a precautionary 
measure. Bowman said Voelker was already back at the scene before firefighters 
left the plant in the early afternoon.

Bowman denied unconfirmed reports that firefighters ran out of water in the 
course of controlling the blaze Friday morning.

"We had all the water we could use," he said. "The city notified us that we 
were using a lot of water, so we made sure we didn't deplete the city's water 

"But we weren't sacrificing anything as far as fighting the fire was concerned."

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 132 or 


Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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